There are plenty of things to do and see around Bassinaud whatever the weather or time of year. Top of many people’s list are the markets that take place nearly every day of the week somewhere nearby (see list below for details). If you find any gems that you think we should add to this list please let us know.
Go to Chalais on a Monday morning for the weekly market, open from 0800-1200, when the centre of the town is closed to traffic to accommodate one of the largest markets in the area with stalls selling local food and drink, clothes, furniture and much more. The 16th Century Chateau, which is owned privately by one of France’s top entertainers, Yves LeCoq, is open to the public daily except Mondays from 1500-1800 (July-September) and at weekends in June.
Aubeterre is officially one of France’s most beautiful villages with a number of ancient buildings surrounding streets and squares filled with artisan shops and a range of bars and restaurants. A must is also a visit to the ancient underground church (closed for lunch) and don’t miss a visit to the antique/brocante shop on the left as you walk down the hill.
Aubeterre is also a great day out for younger visitors as there are loads of activities on the river Dronne including a man-made beach, from which you can swim in the river, and a place to rent kayaks (they take you up river by van and then you just paddle back with the assistance of the current).
St Aulaye (24km)
Like Aubeterre, St Aulaye sits on the river Dronne and provides a range of activities for children including river swimming, an open-air swimming pool, artificial beach, water slides, kayaking, aerial walkways and zip-lines as well as child-friendly cafes. The small town is also quite pleasant for a short stroll to keep Mum & Dad amused for half an hour.
Beauvallon beach (44km)
A mineral, blue-coloured lake surrounded by pine forests with a small, manmade beach offering a safe swimming area, kayak and pedalo hire and cafe.
An activity centre including a treetop adventure playground, a maze, canoe hire, river beach with part-time lifeguard, a woodland adventure playground for younger children and a cafe/restaurant and bar.
St Emilion (78km)
For arguably the best wines in the world, you will be spoiled for choice by taking a trip to St Emilion and its surrounding area! The drive takes you through wonderful countryside and famous vineyards as far as the eye can see. The village of St Emilion itself is delightful, and a World Heritage site with some outstanding architecture and old buildings. Of course, every other building is a ‘cave’ offering some of the finest wines of the world.
Tasting is obligatory but you will rarely be given any pressure sales after tasting. Why not stop at any one of the vineyards you will pass to try some direct sales as they tend to be cheaper than the specialist shops in St Emilion itself. Finally, there is a very informative tourist ‘train’ tour (tickets at the Tourist Information Office) that is well-worth considering.
Guîtres Steam Train and Velorail (59km)
Perhaps combine this with a trip to St Emilion? The Tourist Train from Guîtres to Marcenais will take you aboard an historic steam train through the Gabaye forest providing a change of scenery and a trip back in time. The line is classified as a Historic Monument and a trip of about 45 minutes each way departs from Guîtres station at 15:30 on Sundays and Wednesdays. Stop for a walk at the Charlot stop, then return to Guîtres around 18:15. For the more active, have a look at the ‘Velorail’ system – just like a pedalo on rails!
Bordeaux City (113km)
Bordeaux is a magnificent city, and World Heritage site, with so many things to do and see they are too numerous to list here. It is possible to get there on the train from Montmoreau though the service is not very frequent. If you do go by car the best option is to use the excellent Park and Ride (by tram) system as parking and driving in down-town Bordeaux can be a challenge!
The name of Cognac is synonymous with the brandy produced in the region, and the chance to visit the Cognac distilleries (actually blending houses) certainly attracts many visitors. The town itself is also very interesting to explore with an attractive riverside and historical centre to discover. All the big Cognac names (Hennessy, Martell, Camus, Remy Martin) offer guided tours.
In high summer and weekends, it is important that you book in advance (all have on-line booking systems and all offer tours in various languages). Some of the tours are only for adults, so do check. Note that the Courvoisier and Hine distilleries are in the lovely town of Jarnac on the Charente River (a few kms east of Cognac) and they too offer tours in French and English.
Archiac, Tonnellerie Allary (barrel makers) (52km)
An alternative to the, quite expensive, distillery tours is a visit to a barrel maker. One of the crucial ingredients in the mix that creates cognac is the barrel used for ageing. The cask must be oak, a wood that imparts aromas such as vanilla, caramel and spicy ginger. The countryside around Cognac is dotted with artisan cooperages but only the family-run Allary opens to the public.
Be prepared for a lot of noise and action from the hammering and sawing, dust, smoke and leaping flames as they toast the inside of the barrels, while one bearded cooper performs what looks like a manic dance round the barrels, pounding the staves with a giant hammer. Tours are in French, English and Spanish lasting 1-1½ hours are available by reservation only.
Villebois Lavalette, Chateau de La Mercerie and Gurat (16km)
Villebois-Lavalette is dominated by its chateau sitting above the village along with some ancient houses, a huge roofed market and a church. The rest of the village extends below where the streets are lined with typical Charentais houses with lots to appreciate as you wander round and enjoy the pretty architectural details. Afternoon guided tours of the Chateau and village can be organised in the village’s tourist office.
About 5 minutes drive to the north-west of Villebois is the amazing Chateau de la Mercerie (The Haberdasher’s Castle), sometimes described as the small Versailles of the Charente. But this is a very different property to the one near Paris as much of it was only constructed between 1930 and 1970 as a folly! And then it was not finished…. A huge amount of work is being undertaken by volunteers since the local town hall acquired the site on a 75-year lease in 2011.
Not far away is Gurat, a small village which has a monolithic church carved out of the rock. There is a pretty nature walk through woods to get there. Look out for signs to “Chapelle Saint-Georges”.
Angoulême is the prefecture for the region and is about 35 minutes north of Bassinaud. Located on a plateau overlooking a meander of the river Charente, the city is nicknamed the “balcony of the southwest”. From its tumultuous past, the city, perched on a rocky spur, inherited a large historical, religious, and urban heritage which attracts a lot of tourists.
Nowadays, Angoulême is a commercial and administrative city with its own university of technology, and a vibrant cultural life. This life is dominated by the Angoulême International Comics Festival, the FFA Angoulême Francophone Film Festival and the Musiques Métisses Festival that contribute substantially to the international renown of the city. Angoulême is known as the “Ville de l’Image” which means literally “City of the Image”.
Brantôme and Bourdeilles (45km)
Brantôme is an attractive town near the northern edge of the Dordogne department, which has a nice mix of medieval and renaissance architecture to admire. The Benedictine Abbey on the river’s edge is superb and this along with the old stone bridge, weir and pretty mill all make for a very photogenic scene. It is very pleasant to walk along the edge of the river and through the river-side gardens. Canoes can be hired for a relaxing glide along the Dronne River (a favourite with adults and children). Brantôme market day is on Fridays when the town is particularly animated and colourful!
Just 7 kms to the south-west of Brantôme is the stunning medieval village of Bourdeilles which sits on the edge of the river Dronne and boasts a chateau, a mill, a medieval centre and a panoramic viewpoint. Its main feature is its chateau (actually two castles side-by-side). There is a fortress dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries which has defensive walls and an octagonal ‘donjon’ 35 meters high. Within the walls there is also a second chateau built in the Renaissance style during the 16th century.
This chateau is richly decorated and includes the Salon Doré (golden room) and a furniture collection of the 15th to 19th centuries. Inside the castle walls is a garden area laid out in traditional formal French style – avenues of trees, clipped box and neatly laid out grassy areas. A full day’s trip to take in both Brantôme and Bourdeilles is highly recommended.
Coast/Beach (Royan 117km)
The Garonne estuary is one of the most beautiful in Europe but it is not sandy until near the coast to the south of Royan. Here, St-Georges-de-Didonne offers one of the best, large, sandy beaches in France for a great day out; it has been awarded a Blue Flag which guarantees high water quality and clean beaches. Nearby are the lovely coastal villages of Meschers and Talmont, the latter being another of France’s official most beautiful villages.
Horse riding and small animal petting centre (11km)
Ecuries des Chenes is an equestrian centre offering a wide range of horse and pony activities. There is also an opportunity to feed and care for a range of child-friendly animals (charges apply).
Animal petting centre, Ferme Ferron, Condeon (35km)
There are lots of child-friendly animals to feed and stroke, refreshments and a picnic area (charges apply).
Apparently the 84th most popular visitor attraction in France! Most visits to Blaye start at the Citadel, a military complex which was constructed between 1685 and 1689. Built with the goal of protecting Blaye, the Citadel, together with the Fort Paté and the Fort Médoc on the western side of the Gironde estuary, was able to control the flow of river traffic.
It is free to enter the Citadel and explore its village streets and ramparts. From the top of the Citadel, there is a good view of the estuary and the two forts on the other side. Within its walls, visitors can pay to take guided tours of the Abbaye Saint Romain or to enter or take a tour of the Musée d’Archéologie et d’Histoire de Blaye and the old prison in the same building.
Tours are also available of the Citadel and its underground passageways and can be organised through Blaye Office de Tourisme. There are some really nice (if a bit pricey) restaurants inside the Citadel walls. There is a market every Wednesday and Saturday where visitors can buy local produce, including asparagus of Blayais, from March to May. Blaye’s pralines, fish from the Gironde, and fruit are also notable local products.
Finally, there is a foot-passenger and vehicle ferry across the Gironde estuary from Blaye that will take you to wonderful Medoc countryside and further castles on the estuary.
Bergerac and the Dordogne valley (74km)
Bergerac is a beautiful old town to wander around and have lunch in the numerous cafes and restaurants in the pedestrianized centre or by the river. A drive along the Dordogne river in either direction from Bergerac is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon with some beautiful villages to explore, and there are loads of water activities for the children to do on the river.
A few days after D-Day in 1944, the Nazis destroyed the entire village of Oradour killing 642 men, women and children. It was an act of terror designed to frighten the French so that they did not rise up in mass resistance to help the Allied forces that had landed in Normandy. The village has been left much as it was after the atrocity. The Visitor Centre tells the story and few people are left unmoved after visiting.
Guizengeard nature trail (35km)
About 35 minutes’ drive away at Guizengeard is a wonderful nature trail through woods surrounding 2 beautiful lakes (former clay pits) the colour of which are an amazing turquoise. It is probably best to pick a dry and sunny day unless you happen to have stout shoes/boots with you as it can become boggy after rain! It can be a bit tricky to find so do ask for directions.
WET WEATHER IDEAS
Barbezieux Chateau (38km)
The castle is open in July and August on Tuesdays (1130-1600) and Fridays (1030-1600). There are also tours of the archaeological excavations on Thursdays at 1700-1830 (book at the Tourist Office for these). The castle is adjacent to the old town which, although not huge, is worth a wander around if the weather isn’t too bad. The town is also well-supplied with bars, cafes and restaurants.
Les Antilles de Jonzac (61km)
Les Antilles de Jonzac is a vast leisure complex which includes a swimming lagoon with slides, cascades, geysers and a wave pool. There are artificial indoor and outdoor beaches, tropical gardens, a fitness suite, a beauty salon, a restaurant and more. The complex is open seven days a week. The roof slides partially open in the summer months to let the sun shine in.Next door to ‘Les Antilles’ is a casino which hosts various spectacular shows and also boasts a superb restaurant. Jonzac itself has many attractions, ample bars, restaurants, shops a mediaeval chateau and an outdoor leisure park with a man-made beach, boating lake, aerial runways, a climbing wall and lots of other activities for young and old alike. You can also visit the thermal spas for beauty treatments and total rejuvenation.
On a wet day children may enjoy a visit to the International Centre for Comic Strip and Images. Located in three superb buildings in the town centre beside the Charente River, the International Centre is one of the most important bases in the world for both comic strip and image technology, ensuring that comics are an important element of life in Angoulême throughout the year.
Easy to find just off the N10 with lots of activities for children and adults alike including a huge trampoline centre, bowling, escape quest, laser quest etc. It is worthwhile booking activities on-line as some activities are very popular and become fully booked very quickly.
Nautilus Centre, Angoulême
The Centre is just off the N10 so is easy to get to. It is a large indoor/outdoor water park, with pools, slides and diving boards for children aged from six years old, and a whirlpools, sauna and solarium for their parents! There is also an ice rink.
Villars Caves (58km)
It’s a bit of a drive but reportedly well-worthwhile. You can also call in on the nearby beautiful Château de Puyguilhem, and also visit the ancient village of Saint-Jean-de-Côle, another of France’s most beautiful villages.
La Rochelle Aquarium (165km)
The Aquarium at La Rochelle provides a great day out even if it’s a bit of a drive. The town of La Rochelle is also a fantastic place to visit in any weather.
Chocolaterie Letuffe, Trois Palis (40km)
Learn how to make delicious chocolate goodies. Founded in 1873, it still uses artisanal methods of making chocolate.
LOCAL PRODUCE OUTLETS
Conte Filles Cognac Distillery
Open Mon-Sat 1000-1900. Call, email or fill in the visit form on their website beforehand. Both of the young sisters who run the distillery and vineyard (Blandine and Anne-Laure) speak good English. Free personal guided tour or, for €10, enjoy a cognac and pineau tasting tour.
Le Maine Giraud Estate (Cognac and Pineau Distillery)
Another popular ‘small’ cognac and pineau estate offering perhaps more personal tours than the ‘Big Boys’ in Cognac. Book online.
Testaud Estate (Cognac and Pineau Distillery)
5kms west of Barbezieux in the village of Lamerac is another popular cognac and pineau estate offering visits with English narrative. Also has an interesting museum of cognac production. Book your visit in advance.
Rene Carre Farm
This is a good visit for young and old. The visit includes a ride on a tractor-towed ‘train’ through acres of vineyards, nut trees and a dairy farm. Products to sample and buy include pineau, cognac and nut oil.
Moulin de Grand Fief – This is a working windmill that produces flour used at the boulangerie in Condeon and which can also be purchased at the mill.
Lerisson Gourmand Farm
Producer of nuts, nut products, biscuits etc. Their shop sells a large range of other goods and gifts.
LOCAL WEEKLY MARKETS
- Monday morning : Chalais (recommended)
- Tuesday morning : Barbezieux
- Wednesday morning : Montmoreau Saint-Cybard
- 2nd and the 4th Wednesday mornings: Baignes Sainte-Radegonde
- Wednesday morning : Bonnes
- Thursday morning : Saint-Séverin
- Friday morning : Barbezieux
- Friday morning : Riberac (recommended)
- Saturday morning : Barbezieux, place du Champ de foire
- Sunday morning : Aubeterre-sur-Dronne
- Saturday morning : Blanzac-Porcheresse
- Saturday morning : Montmoreau Saint-Cybard
There are plenty of places you can cool off nearby. Our nearest town, Montmoreau, has an outdoor swimming pool open Mon-Sat during July and August. Also there is a sandy beach at Aubeterre-sur-Dronne where you can paddle and swim, as well as a swimming spot and much else to see and do at La Base de Pleine Nature de Poltrot.